Half Past the Month: Mayoral Horse Manure

September 14, 2017

I LIKE TO IMAGINE how my city’s mayor, a proudly average fellow who has pinned his intellectual reputation to the environmental movement, would have governed New York City in 1900. It inspires gratitude that today he can do so little comparative damage.

The mayor recently joined other Indiana mayors at the second annual Climate Leadership Summit in Indianapolis. They decided — you guessed it — that they needed more state money to convince businesses and communities to embrace “renewable” energy, the promise of which requires suspension of the laws of economics.

As a practical matter, the mayors want to discourage in their cities (at great expense in both taxes and jobs) the primary drivers of civilization, particularly the internal-combustion engine — and therein is the link to turn-of-the-century New York.

Itwas the internal-combustion engine, the forerunner of the gas-guzzling, pollution-spewing machine that brought you to work this morning, that saved the city from environmental disaster.

Indeed, Steven Davies of the Foundation for Economic Education tells the story of an environmental summit held in New York in 1898 similar to the one held this month in Indianapolis. Its attendees also dispersed after only a few days, having convinced themselves that there was no solution other than, you guessed it again, more state money.

The problem back then? Manure.

In New York in 1900, Davies notes, the population of 100,000 horses produced 2.5 million pounds of manure per day producing clouds of manure-laden dust not to mention piles of decomposing waste and carcasses. He goes on:

“The larger and richer that cities became, the more horses they needed to function. The more horses, the more manure. Writing in the Times of London in 1894, one writer estimated that in 50 years every street in London would be buried under nine feet of manure. Moreover, all these horses had to be stabled, which used up ever-larger areas of increasingly valuable land. And as the number of horses grew, ever-more land had to be devoted to producing hay to feed them (rather than producing food for people), and this had to be brought into cities and distributed — by horse-drawn vehicles. It seemed that urban civilization was doomed.”

The gas-powered automobile, of course, came to the rescue. It was less polluting than horse power by magnitudes of 250 or more, leaving a relatively tiny carbon footprint (or hoof print, if you prefer). More important even, it led to historic economic growth that improved all aspects of human life, particularly in health and nutrition, and built a nation strong enough to survive two world wars launched by foreign powers bent on global domination.

All of that is said in realization that our little group of mayors meeting in Indianapolis may be right that humans, or horses for that matter, are a factor, however insignificant, in so-called global warming. We cannot know. The climate data doesn’t go back far enough to make anything approaching a sensible as opposed to hysterical determination.

So what to think? The columnist and Hoosier R. Emmett Tyrrell has the most reasonable position to my mind:

“We really do not know what the future holds for climate. We do know that all the nostrums advanced to solve global warming will impede global growth, which means ensuring continued poverty for the world’s poor. Moreover, a significant number of the world’s governments have shown no inclination to follow the nostrums’ inhibiting requirements, which means the nostrums will have little or no effect. The debate about climate and how to limit global warming is a farce.”

A farce — the perfect thing to keep mayors busy and out of more serious trouble.

Craig Ladwig is editor of the quarterly Indiana Policy Review.


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